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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Gospel of the Virgin Birth
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-06-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 71:1,3                                                                                           

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Luke 1:26-38; Philippians 2:1-11

Ps 51:2,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 14

Hy 20:1,2,3,4

Hy 23:1,2,3,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, Christmas is still some time away. And every Christmas again, I’m sure many of us turn to the story of Mary for one of our dinner-time Bible readings. In Luke 1, we read about how the angel appeared to this young woman to explain her important role in these salvation-events: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (1:31). And then we read how Mary responds in humble faith: “Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).

Now, that was just the announcement of what was going to happen. There was quite some time between the angel’s appearance and what actually took place in Bethlehem on that wondrous night. Yet Luke 1 is closely tied to that moment of Jesus’ arrival.

And these are truths to ponder all year long, not just at Christmas time. These are mercies to celebrate daily: that the Son of God was born as a person just like us! And He must be, not simply so that He’s relatable and can understand our struggles, but so that He can stand in our place and bear our curse. Our Saviour needs to be a flesh-and-blood human, one who can carry all the pain and punishment we deserve. For instead of God directing his holy anger toward us for sin, it’s poured out on him.

This is what we consider in Lord’s Day 14, where the Catechism directs us to meditate on the miracle and the message of the virgin birth. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

As those born in sin, we thankfully confess Jesus’ virgin birth:

  1. the Spirit’s mighty strength
  2. the Son’s lowly place
  3. the Father’s ready forgiveness

 

1) the Spirit’s mighty strength: When a child is born, there is great joy and excitement. Parents give thanks to God when all is well with their new son or new daughter. Looking at a baby’s tiny hands and feet and sparkling eyes, you might think it’s almost perfect.

But that evaluation doesn’t remain optimistic for too long. Not that crying itself is sinful, but within a few months, parents will have learned that not all cries are the same—there’s a hungry cry, and an uncomfortable cry, and an angry cry. Before long, Mom and Dad admit that also their child is sinful! They never really doubted it, but now they can see it: this dear child was brought into the world a sinful being, with a corrupted heart.

This must be the conclusion for every child born to human parents. It’s the truth, not just because parents start noticing self-centeredness from an early age. But this is because every child stands in the line of Adam, our first father.

Think about what Paul says in Romans 5 when he looks at where we came from. Some people like to do research into their genealogy these days and brag about their noble ancestors, but not the apostle Paul. For he tells us: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (v 12). That’s our rotten family tree, that’s the twisted DNA of our souls.

And because sin is a family trait, it goes deep. This identity is passed on from parents to their children like a gift that no one wants. For this reason David says in the familiar words of Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David says that before he had any conscious thoughts and desires, even before he was born and saw the light of day, he was sinful.

So how can a true Saviour possibly be found? We learned in Lord’s Day 5 that our Saviour needs to be true God, and a true and righteous man. But if every person is guilty from the start, if they are guilty ‘by virtue’ of being human, who could ever stand in the place of others? How can we ever find someone qualified?

The only way is for the chain of sin to be broken. This hereditary disease would have to be interrupted and placed in quarantine. Put it this way: breaking the chain of sin would involve changing the very way that a child is conceived!

And this is what happened. This was the amazing news that Mary received one fine day, all those centuries ago. The promised Christ was going to arrive through her body, sharing in the life of her human womb. As God had always said, already in the Garden of Eden, salvation would arrive from the line of the woman.

When Mary hears all this, her one question goes straight to the point: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). She knew the glorious promises, she had heard the ancient prophecies, but how on earth could a child be conceived in her, a virgin?  

And notice the angel doesn’t really explain how it will happen. For there wasn’t an explanation that she—or we—could ever understand! Rather, the angel only says who will bring it about: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (v 35). The angel tells her not how, but who!

In the virgin’s womb, by the activity of an unseen being, through the most powerful force in the universe, a living child will be conceived: Christ Jesus, God the Son. Fatherless on earth, but not Fatherless in heaven! An incredible wonder, one that was physically impossible, but what did that matter to the LORD? “With God nothing will be impossible” (v 37).

However it would happen exactly, the result of this conception would be certain. Already now, the angel announces what kind of child is coming: “The holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (v 35). Notice that word: Mary’s child would be holy: set apart from every stain of sin. He would be freed of all the baggage of his family history. The dismal line of Adam was finally broken in the power of the Spirit!

In the womb of Mary, the Holy Spirit will bring about a miraculous life. In a way, this outcome should not be surprising to us. For this is the Spirit’s specialty, bringing about new life! He is its Lord and its Giver. Recall how the Spirit was on the scene in Genesis 1, “hovering over the waters.” The Spirit was there, overseeing the work of creation, caring for things that the Father called into being. Like an eagle hovering over its young ones, the Spirit “overshadowed” the world as it came into existence, and He gave to creation his life-giving blessing.

Also in the work of saving sinners, the Spirit is going to have a major part. By his wonder-working power, He will generate life in the virgin’s womb, clothing the Son of God in flesh. The Spirit will come upon her, the angel says; He will overshadow her. He will give a human nature to the Son of God, so that He can be our one Redeemer. He will be true man, fully qualified to take the punishment for our rebellion. And He will be God himself, fully able to bear the divine wrath. As God and man, He will be ready to rescue a fallen world!

And now think about this, that God promises to send us the same Spirit who filled Mary so long ago. That’s right: the same Spirit who produced new life in the virgin Mary can produce new life in us. He comes near to overshadow us—picture that hovering eagle again—for He’s ready to care for you, to restore your heart and transform your mind. ‘And the holy one who is born again will be called a child of God.’

It is good to have our eyes open to the work of the Spirit. If He is working in you, then there will be an effect. Trouble is, we don’t always see this. What about when you’ve been enslaved by a vile sin for a long time? Is the Spirit really capable of making you holy? Or what about when there is someone who seems totally hardened against the Lord? Can they be changed? Or when a child of God never seems to grow in faith, and he actually seems to slide backwards? Maybe a wife worries this about her husband, or parents worry this about their children: Will they ever mature in Christ? Is the Spirit really at work?

When things look hopeless, we need to hear the angel’s amazing word: “With God nothing will be impossible” (v 37). The Holy Spirit is able to change any human heart. For think what He did in Mary’s womb: He was able to bring new life, even divine life, out of next to nothing! Are there any barriers for the Lord’s work?

If you have the Holy Spirit, then it is possible to change and to grow. But it means that we should echo David’s prayer from Psalm 51 as a daily prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Do not take your Holy Spirit from me… But grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (vv 10-12). Let us look constantly to the mighty Holy Spirit to make us sinners grow into holiness and purity, faith and understanding.

 

2) the Son’s lowly place: When we think about the virgin birth, we have to be careful not to say that this was now the beginning of the Son of God. It is true that, strictly speaking, “Jesus” did not exist before the virgin conceived. He was born as man, and only then did He receive that name. But long before this, already the Son of God existed! Remember Lord’s Day 13, “Christ is the eternal Son of God.” Or recall the truth in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

The Son of God has always existed. But this was the giving of  a new identity, a second nature. As the Catechism teaches us, “The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself true human nature” (Q&A 35). The Son of God—still God himself—became a man. That was his new position.

And what a position to take! For when you or I were born, we had zero choice in the matter. Did I pick my parents? Did I choose at which hospital I’d make my first appearance? Did I circle my birthday on the calendar ahead of time? No, and none of us could decide when, or where, or to whom we would be born. But when Jesus was born from Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, this was his fully-informed decision!

When the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit made their plan of salvation, Christ agreed. He would be the agent and representative. Jesus, the Son of God, agreed to take on our nature. He’d be born as a man, “in the fullness of time,” and all the humility of the flesh.

So why did He do it? The first thing always motivating our Saviour was his love for the Father. This was the motto of his ministry: He came to earth to bring glory to God. He would say only what the Father said. He would do only what the Father commanded. So also in choosing to be born, Jesus would show his loving obedience.

But Christ was moved by a second thing as well, and that was his compassionate love for sinners. Especially in becoming a man, He had to have been moved by love! None of us like suffering, but sometimes we’re willing if it’s for people we love dearly. Thinking of them, and how they’ll benefit, we might accept sacrifice or temporary pain. This is what parents do for their children, or husbands and wives for each other, or brothers and sisters in a family.

So in Christ’s great love for us. He knew the terrible suffering that lay ahead of him, that in taking on a human body, there’d be hunger, thirst, and fatigue. He understood just how weak and lowly it is to have human flesh. What is more, the Son of God knew the human heart. That is to say, He knows what evil lurks within us. He knows that we are prone to sin over and over—and He also know how angry God ought to be. Christ realized what our horrible sins deserve.

The Son of God understood full well what team He was joining. He knew what kind of people He’d be representing in God’s court, what it’d take to save a hopeless group like us. Jesus the Son of God knew what was ahead of him, but pressed on. He took upon himself our nature, our position, our judgment.

And this love is all the more remarkable when we consider (again) that this was our Saviour’s choice. He chose to become poor. He chose to become obscure. He chose a life of sorrow, a ministry of hardship, even for people who hated him. Though God himself, He “made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant” (Phil 2:7). He’d put others first, help the helpless, teach the ignorant, and search out the lost—even for those who were his enemies.

Beloved, let’s just think our own hesitations to reach out to the lowly. We might see them nearby the bus or train station, holding their cardboard signs and looking pathetic. Part of us can’t help but think that these people are beneath us. They’re poor, dirty, and they obviously have problems. It’s probably their own fault they’re in this position. Why should we give them any help? So we keep our eyes to the front.

But consider what Jesus did. Though He was “in the form of God, [He] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:6-7). He came to stand beside us in our poverty and to walk with us, to help in the midst of all our trouble. He came and washed our feet and He filled our stomachs with food and drink that endures.

As God, He could have stayed safely on his throne in heaven. Even as a human, as a descendant of David, He could’ve become a glorious king in Jerusalem. Kings are supposed to be in charge and give the orders. But this king listened to orders. He submitted, even to the very last. He was obedient “to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (v 8). He chose the shameful life and accepted a humble position.

In a moment we’ll talk about what this means for our salvation. But what does it mean for our attitude toward those around us? Paul draws out this lesson from Jesus’ deep humbling and faithful service: “Let this mind [this attitude, this way of thinking] be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (v 5). Think about Jesus, who though He was “in the form of God,” He accepted a lower place. He didn’t try preserve his own reputation, but He become a servant.

“Have the same attitude,” the Spirit says: “Do like Christ did.” What does that look like? This is the kind of attitude which should rule our life: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others’” (vv 3-4). Christ calls us to take the same humble road that He travelled.

One example: We ought to be willing to be the lesser person, and to forgive the nasty classmate who has wronged you, and not to bring up the offenses of your brother anymore—to be ‘forgetful’—that is truly Christ-like.

Another example: We ought to swallow our pride, and admit to your wife or your husband or to your child you might actually be wrong. And then try to make it right.

Or again: We ought to reach out to those around us who clearly need help. Perhaps they don’t quite fit in at school or at church, or you can see all the evidence of their burdens on their face, or you know there is some trouble—help them, for that is Christ-like.

We spend so much of our time thinking about ourselves. Let’s be honest: our lives are driven by selfish ambition and conceit. We are always interviewing ourselves: How am I doing? Am I getting what I want? Am I looking good? But Christ teaches us to take our eyes off ourselves, and to see the people around us. He wants us to think of all who would be blessed by an act of kindness, to look to their interests and needs.

How are we doing in this, beloved? In us would Christ recognize a people who are humbly dedicated to following his example? If we have enjoyed his love, if we have been blessed by his saving work, then are we leading a life of humble service?

 

3) the Father’s ready forgiveness: We said that Jesus’ primary goal on earth was simple—He wanted to be a faithful Son. When He took on our human nature and when He lived a fully human life, Jesus was keen to know: Was the Father pleased with him? Did God accept these humble efforts?

The Father approved. Already as a child, Scripture says that Jesus grew in favour with God. Then at his baptism, God the Father declares, “With my Son I am well-pleased.” And on the Mount of Transfiguration the Father affirms, “This is my Son, whom I love.” Then once Jesus had been killed, the Father made his satisfaction clear. How? He raised his Son from the dead. The Son had done his redeeming work, and done it well!

And this means that God the Father is ready to forgive us. See how the Catechism explains it, “He is our Mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness, covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born” (Q&A 36). In every way—even from Day 1—Christ was innocent. In every way, Christ was holy. So through him we are changed.

Born in sin, we said, we used to be destined for judgment. This was our standing before God, even from the moment of our conception. But in his righteousness, Christ “covers [our sin] in the sight of God.” Ponder that image: Christ covers our sin. The Father looks, and the sin isn’t there anymore. There’s no longer a reason for wrath.

Not that our sin is simply swept under the carpet, or the Father’s not looking hard enough. Our sin is covered, because Christ has dealt with it! He covered our transgressions with his blood. He erased our failures with his righteousness. He’s covered it all in the shadow of the cross. When the Father looks at us in Christ, it’s as if we had never had, nor committed any sin.

This changes everything. It means we’re sinners, but we’re not useless. God says there’s no reason to stay in the misery of guilt, to feel worthless or to act pointless. In Christ, there’s no reason to be weighed down by all your past and present sins. If we humbly turn to the Saviour, we can be set free from our past.

The Father’s forgiveness can also change how we look at one another. We’re usually good at finding fault in the people around us. But a child of God has every reason to have a short memory and a gracious spirit. The Father has forgiven us, so we ought to forgive one another. Look at one another with new eyes, eyes that have witnessed first-hand the grace of the Father.

And the Father’s ready forgiveness changes how we look at God. Now we can see him as our faithful Father. We can trust him as our loving Saviour. We can be near to him, even as close as the Spirit living in us.

To this great God be all our praise for his mighty saving work!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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